School hopefuls discuss teacher retention

George Archuleta Pasquotank School Board Candidate
1 of 3

By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The three candidates seeking the two Outside City seats on the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Board of Education have different ideas about how to keep good teachers in the school district.

Sharon Warden, a retired teacher who currently chairs the school board, Ron Payne, a former school administrator, and George Archuleta, a retired aircraft mechanic, are vying for the two Outside seats on the board in the Nov. 6 general election.

Warden said she believes teacher morale is already strong.

“We’re in a good place right now with out teachers,” Warden said. “They feel good about themselves, their profession and Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools, and the direction it’s headed. We definitely have the passion and the enthusiasm.”

She acknowledged some teachers have left the district this year and last year. The reasons they left are sometimes personal, sometimes related to pay and sometimes involve being unhappy and disillusioned with where they are and where the district is, she said.

It’s really the last of those reasons that the board can do the most about, Warden said.

She said she thinks back to her own career as a teacher in ECPPS.

“Morale would come into play oftentimes when I felt like I was not being respected as a professional and that’s something that we as a district can battle by giving (teachers) some flexibility, giving them the respect that they deserve as professionals in our society, giving them a feeling of self-worth,” Warden said.

The same things that passionate, dedicated teachers give to students, the district can work to give to teachers, she said.

Payne said he believes issues with teacher turnover and teacher morale stem from how teachers and other employees feel they are treated by top administrators, including former Superintendent Larry Cartner. Cartner, who came to ECPPS in 2015, resigned this summer.

“We are losing too many faculty and staff and I think it’s a direct result of our former superintendent and the board allowing certain things to happen,” Payne said. “That’s why I think we need a change in the leadership on the board. I think the board was out of tune with what was going on in the district.”

Payne said he took issue in particular with something he remembers Cartner saying shortly after arriving as superintendent.

“I remember him saying, ‘We will have to move people to corporate America,’” Payne said, which he understood to mean dismissing some employees from their current positions in the schools. “You shouldn’t come in from the begining and talk about moving people out. I think the negativity of the statement is not conducive to keeping things positive and moving forward.”

A lot of employees — and students — did leave the district, Payne said.

Archuleta said he, too, is concerned about teacher turnover.

“I know for a fact it’s not all about money,” Archuleta said. “It’s about them feeling like they weren’t being listened to.”

Archuleta said teachers have told him they would stay in ECPPS if they felt they had support here.

“They do need to go where they feel they are being appreciated and they matter,” Archuleta said.

Teachers also need a forum where they have a voice and feel safe expressing their thoughts, because they know what’s really going on in the schools, he said.

“I think we need to listen to that,” Archuleta said.

If teachers know that someone is listening to them that may help keep good teachers in the district, he said.

“Money isn’t always the answer to keeping teachers,” Archuleta said. “So why not do everything we can to boost teacher morale? I think the students will feed off anything positive. Everything is a domino effect.”

In interviews last week, none of the candidates for the Outside City seats favored moving toward the state’s “turnaround” model of school reform, which calls for replacing a school’s principal and rehiring no more than half of the school’s staff.

“I think you do need to take a look at personnel and find out how effective they are and provide quality professional development to make faculty and staff as effective as possible,” Payne said. “I think effective professional development will help in student achievement. I don’t think a blanket loss of 50 percent of staff is good in any model. We need to look at effectiveness and professional development.”

Warden said she believes the latest state testing results, which among other things no longer designated ECPPS as a “low-performing district” as it was last year, show the district moving in the right direction despite the challenges that still exist.

“I think we’re going in the right direction at this point,” Warden said. “We moved out of low-performing. We’re extremely excited about that. I think the wave of enthusiasm with that is going to help project us on up to a higher level.”

Several schools in ECPPS bumped up a letter grade this year, Warden noted, and she said she believes the early college may move up from a “B” to an “A” over the next few years.

“I know we have challenges before us,” Warden said. “The teachers realize that and they’re busting their butts to do everything they can to get the kids motivated and serious about the task before them.”

Archuleta said improving student achievement begins with believing students can achieve at a higher level.

“I think sometimes we give up too soon on a kid,” Archuleta said.

And the schools need to work with parents rather than simply complaining that parents aren’t involved in their child’s education, he said. The school should find out about the challenges a parent might be facing such as working two jobs, he said.

Payne said his experience as a school administrator — he is a former principal at Northeastern and a former assistant principal for ECPPS — would be beneficial in reviewing recommendations that come to the board from the superintendent.

“I believe that the board sets a vision and a direction that the school district wants to go,” Payne said. Board members depend on the superintendent’s expertise but experienced educators need to be part of the school board, he said.

“I think my background and experience is what I can bring to this board to make those kinds of decisions,” Payne said.

It is the board’s responsibility to question recommendations that come from the superintendent, he said. The board needs to listen to teachers and the community, and it’s his contention the board wasn’t listening to either teachers or the community for the past three years.

Archuleta said he would be respectful toward whoever is serving as superintendent but would ask a lot of questions about any recommendation the superintendent brings to the board.

“Respectfully I will say, ‘no — we need to discuss this. That needs to be changed.’ You need to be respectful but everybody needs to have a voice,” he said. “One person cannot control everything. There have got to be checks and balances. I have learned to not be a yes man but you have got to do it respectfully.”

Warden said she thinks board members are well-informed and do a good job of reviewing the superintendent’s recommendations.

“It is our job to question, to research,” Warden said. “As a board member I pride myself on making sure I have done my due diligence as far as researching topics, examining all the elements of a certain initiative that is being proposed. And with that in mind I go in prepared to ask questions, to ask for a deep dive into certain items if I think that’s necessary.”

Board members also have to make sure every decision will help students develop into whatever they choose to be, Warden said. She said she looks at every decision as something that ultimately has an effect on students.

Warden said she believes the board overall does a good job, with each member bringing an element of expertise and bringing something unique to the table.

“We are there to support our superintendent and his or her staff and the employees that we have under our governance, so we need to take that into consideration, too,” Warden said. “I take the job very, very seriously.”

George Archuleta

Age: 63

Occupation: Retired aircraft mechanic

Education: High school graduate; airframe and power plant license

Military service: Four years in the U.S. Coast Guard

Past political campaigns/offices: None

Civic involvement: Volunteers serving meals at the former Elizabeth City Middle School; member, Forest Park Church; volunteered at women’s shelter

Family: Married, two grown children, five grandchildren

Ron Payne

Age: 63

Occupation: Sales coordinator; former school administrator and teacher

Education: Master’s degree in leadership and human development, George Washington University

Military service: None

Past political campaigns/offices: None

Civic involvement: Virginia Commonwealth School of Education Alumni Association; Fellowship of Christian Athletes board in Central Virginia; Special Olympics volunteer

Family: three children.

Sharon Warden

Age: 62

Occupation: retired teacher

Education: Master’s degree in library science, East Carolina University

Military service: None

Past political campaigns/offices: Elected to Outside City seat on ECPPS Board of Education, 2014; serves as chairwoman of the board; ran unsuccessfully two previous times for Outside City seat

Civic involvement: Member, American Mustang Association (car club); former board member, Albemarle United Way, League of Women Voters

Family: Married, two grown children. one grandchild